Wednesday, 23 July 2008
and a cleaner in the distance finds a cobweb on a face....
Calke Abbey - the ornamental gardens are some way off to the left
As my eyesight has been okay, because I have the time off and because the weather has been nice, C. and I have taken the opportunity over the last couple of days to get out and about. On Tuesday we went to Calke Abbey. Calke Abbey is owned by the National Trust and is a Baroque Manor House set in a beautiful country park that the trust have elected to preserve in the state they found it in rather than attempt to restore it. We didn’t have time to wander around the house, but we did spend a couple of hours in the beautiful walled gardens, looking at the sweet peas, vegetables and the interesting selection of outbuildings with underfloor heating (an orangery, a mushroom house, an ice house… that kind of thing). To be honest, the other thing that kept me interested whilst we were there were the other people who were there. People watching is always fun, but there’s something special about the kind of person who goes to visit a National Trust garden: they all seem so worthy somehow, from the lady of a certain age who was overly excited about entering the kitchen garden, through to the middle-aged guys pretending they knew what every plant they walked past was, when the labels on the plants proved them wrong every single time. There’s also something almost unbearably insufferable about the staff too. They’re probably all volunteers and lovely people, but they seem to wield that extra worthiness as a weapon on everyone who comes across their path. We arrived at about 16:15, and the lady who sold us our ticket made a special point of looking at us mildly disapprovingly and saying:
“You are going directly to the gardens, aren’t you? Last entrance is at 16:30”
Er. Thanks, but what else did you think we were going to do? How long did you think it was going to take us to walk through that door and into the gardens? Gah.
Today we made the trip up to Lincoln to have a wander around the beautiful old town and to spend some quality time amongst some monumental architecture. Nottingham has many virtues, but it has an almost complete lack of any buildings more than a couple of hundred years old. I like monumental architecture, and although I’m not in the least bit religious, I find it incredibly soothing to spend time wandering around cathedrals. I have no interest in their God, but I do love to think about the devotion that led to the construction of these buildings, and I love to examine the art and the architecture they contain. Today we went on a tour of the roof of Lincoln Cathedral. This involved a 90 minute trip up the old Norman towers and into the roof space above the nave. It might not sound like much, but it was genuinely thrilling to be standing on dusty, 1000 year old oak timbers and looking at the humps made of mortar that form the inside of the vaulting on the roof of the nave. Those vaults were originally created some 900-odd years ago by packing bricks against a wooden frame and packing the frame and the bricks with a mortar that takes some 6-8 months to dry. Once it was dry, the frame is moved and the vault is supported purely by the mortar and the weight of the bricks. Not much has changed in the last 900 years, except that the weight of the roof and the vaults slowly but surely pushes the whole building off to one side, and to counteract this, the cathedral architects have, over the centuries, added more and more timber support to bolster the whole building. Like I say, fascinating. Well, once a medieval historian, always a historian….
The vaulting in the nave - we were standing just above here
Again, almost as fascinating as the cathedral itself were the people it contained. There were the worthier-than-thou people staffing the entry desk where you were forced to pay £4 for entry. Now, I know that these buildings are not cheap to maintain, but surely their whole purpose is for worship. Is it right and proper that the church, one of the richest institutions in the whole country, should charge people to enter this place of worship? Or are they saying that we are visiting this as a secular building? If we’re entering it as a secular building, then why is the only guidebook that we’re given on entry full of prayers we might like to say and the “pilgrim path” that we might choose to follow to help with our worship and to give thanks for our lives. Rubbish. I’d quite like the people taking my money to wipe their holy smiles off their faces, thanks very much. I also had to stifle a smile when I walked past one of the tour guides in the cathedral telling her rapt audience as they stood around the tomb of Katherine Swynford that John of Gaunt, "wasn't the king of England, but he was a very important man". Well, that's one way of describing a member of the house of Plantagenet, the first Duke of Lancaster and an enormous influence on English history, not least as the de-facto regent for Richard II... but why worry about the details? Maybe "very important man" is all you really need to know from your expert tour guide. Anyway. Our guide for the roof tour, Pru, seemed nice enough, but she was a bell-ringer in the cathedral, and she could barely keep her zeal for that under wraps, and kept trying to tell us all about the size of the bells and how complex it was to ring them in the right way. Perhaps I shouldn’t even get started on the other 11 people on the tour… suffice it to say that they were very much cut from the same cloth as those in your average National Trust garden, with their lovely sandals and socks and pointless questions.
And yes, I am fully aware of the irony in me clambering on my high horse to mock the kind of person who visits National Trust gardens and Cathedrals when I have just visited both on successive days. I’m apparently that kind of person, but not that kind of person, if you follow me…..
Right, glad that’s cleared up.
The garden's coming along nicely too. More tea, vicar?